Communications Hassles

by Phil Rowe

In the 1960's B-58 bomber crews from Bunker Hill AFB, Indiana practiced their radar bombing skills over a variety of cities. Selected cities and rural sites featured ground radar tracking stations to precisely score simulated bomb drops by Strategic Air Command (SAC) aircrews.

St. Louis, Missouri was one of those Radar Bomb Scoring (RBS) sites we frequently used. At the site was a van-mounted radar system positioned on a prominent hilltop from which a wide radar view enabled acquisition and tracking of high altitude bombers.

On a typical training flight we made several simulated RBS runs against St. Louis area targets from various angles. An overhead view of our flight path appeared like a flower, described by petal loops across and around the city. Each inbound approach usually involved a seventy-five mile straight course, followed by a departure course off in another direction.

During these RBS exercises, we often made six or eight passes over the St. Louis area. To comply with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and military traffic control procedures required us to keep a variety of people on the ground apprised of our flight path, planned activities and current position. We operated in congested airspace sharing the skies with commercial traffic and other military planes.

My job included radio communications chores. On approach to the St. Louis area we were required to establish radio contact with Chicago Air Traffic Control Center (ATRC), Indianapolis ATRC, Kansas City ATRC and the RBS site. Radio frequencies were assigned by geographic area, so depending upon where you were at the moment you changed frequency. Each ATRC area was divided into sectors with each sector having different radio frequencies.

I recall one flight where I kept a record of all of the frequency changes required for about six RBS runs at St. Louis. In the span of two hours we changed frequencies sixty times as our flower petal or cloverleaf flight patterns crossed various con- trol regions. Sometimes on one seventy-five mile leg into a target we would change frequencies three to five times.

On missions where we had but one radio working, normally we had two, keeping track of frequency changes and who you were talking to became a real chore. Of course all that was in addition to the other onboard activities of making bomb runs, navigational changes, electronic countermeasures tests, monitoring fuel and checking center-of-gravity conditions. We were busy.

In fact, St. Louis was our least-popular RBS site because of the communications hassles. We preferred bombing practice elsewhere, anywhere else but St. Louis. No other RBS site that I can remember posed such a demanding communications workload.